Understanding Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’ ending

Christopher Nolan Tenet
Credit: Warner Bros Pictures / Tenet

Christopher Nolan’s latest movie, a twisting spy thriller called ‘Tenet‘ is a confusing cocktail of car chases and military operations moving backward and forwards at the same time:

And like most of Nolan’s movies, Tenet also ends with a confusing twist in the last military operation.

Many viewers have still not understood the ending of the movie even after seeing it four to five times. This is a quality, as much as a flaw of Nolan that his movies often tend to confuse the audience.

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The Last Operation Of Tenet

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

The last operation of the movie was a ‘temporal pincer’, a concept that had been mentioned many times by Ives (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

In a temporal pincer, one force moves forward in time while the other one moves backward, in this way they attack from two opposite time loops at the same time:

(And this is why the movie has some of its audience confused).

The army units were split into two: the red and the blue. The red soldiers are traveling forward in time while their blue counterparts are traveling backward. The blue ones start their attack ten minutes in the future but they are moving backward and have reinforcements in the form of knowledge of how the actual event took place.

Blue Team Takes A Bullet

The real confusion occurs when a masked member of the blue team takes a bullet meant for the Protagonist (played by John David Washington) and walks backward in inverted motion. The masked person is Neil (played by Robert Pattinson), revealed by the orange cord on his backpack.

In the final scene when the three men walk on their paths, the Protagonist sees that orange cord and realizes that it was Neil who saved him. He knows that Neil is going to die after this and he does not stop him because he knows that is the only way to make sure that everything goes according to the plan.

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The Whole Movie Is A Temporal Pincer

The whole movie is a temporal pincer, and revolves around a quote that is often used by the characters, ‘What’s happened, happened’. In the end, we get to know that Neil was recruited by the Protagonist in the future and sent back in the past to save the world.

A whole cycle will continue to move forward and backward. The protagonist is working for the future version of himself who guides him through Neil.

The title of the movie ‘Tenet’ is itself a temporal pincer, a palindrome that will be the same if spelled forwards or backward. It is also the name of the organization formed by the Protagonist in the future and the metaphorical implication of the final operation. One team moves ‘ten’ minute backward while the other one moves ‘ten’ minute forward. So one ‘ten’ inverted makes ‘Tenet’.

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Mind-Blowing Nolan

Tenet is further proof of the creative excellence of Christopher Nolan and his ability to break the limits of physics.

For many, it was just another reason to get a headache but for others, it was a new concept of physics.

Nolan’s creativity and his technique of molding the concepts of physics to make a movie out of them are out of this world and there is hardly any writer or director who can compete with him in this realm. 

Have you watched Tenet? Tell us what you thought about the movie in the comments below.